The Pats and moral victories
Now that the NFL playoffs are upon us, I’m becoming nervous.
In the early days of the regular season, I was just happy that the New England Patriots were winning.
It was a rebuilding year, I was told, and we would be lucky if the team clinched a wild card berth. The defense wasn’t good. The tight ends were young. The team’s most prolific receiver, Wes Welker, was returning from a season-ending knee injury last January. And when the Patriots traded wide receiver Randy Moss, I despaired.
But as everyone who follows football is pretty well aware, the Patriots finished the regular season with the best record in football, completely destroying five of the last six teams they played. Now I’m told that anything less than a Super Bowl win will be a disappointment. Wait . . . weren’t we rebuilding?
In any case, I like winning Super Bowls.
But what’s interesting, at this point, is how quickly I’ve moved from a “Yay! We’re Winning!” mind-set to a “Must Win the Super Bowl” mind-set.
And although I wouldn’t trade my newfound “Must Win the Super Bowl” mind-set for the “Yay! We’re Winning!” mind-set, wasn’t life a little bit more carefree back then?
Now I have to spend all of January watching football, and worrying about playoff matchups. I’m already pondering whether I’d rather see the Patriots face the Jets, Ravens or Chiefs next and telling everyone I’m probably busy on Super Bowl Sunday. Last year I spent the Super Bowl with a friend who doesn’t have a TV, listening to the game on the radio and playing Boggle; I’ve already informed her that if the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl, I’m going to have to, you know, watch the game. “Sorry,” I said. “I can’t hang out this year.”
I’m not sure it’s healthy to feel so invested in how a football team does.
After all, I’m still recovering from the Patriots’ loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. I watched this game with my friend the New England Sports Fan Friend, who was so angry at the unexpected and disastrous outcome (at least, if you’re a Patriots fan), that he threw his gleeful friend Mike out of the house.
I also watched the Boston Celtics lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals, and game 7 — in which the Celtics blew a double-digit lead — continues to haunt me.
During the first half of that game, the New England Sports Fan Friend and I talked about how my sister Rebecca had taken an interest in sports, particularly NBA basketball, after suffering her life-threatening brain injury. “She should write the Celtics a letter,” the New England Sports Fan Friend said, “and tell them how much their playoff run inspired her during her healing. Maybe they would invite her to meet them, and allow her to sit courtside.”
By the end of the game, he was singing a different tune. “She should still write a letter,” he said. “But now it should be full of hatred, and anger.”
Again, is this healthy?
Anyway, my friend Monica is home for the holidays, and we decided to play bar trivia at Holmes & Watson for the first time since September.
Monica and I have never won bar trivia. For one thing, there are only two of us, and most teams have six or seven people. And playing in Troy, we’re often up against an RPI grad school crowd, and the questions tend to be more scientific and mathematical than is typical. (The emcee at Holmes & Watson also likes to include a “Lord of the Rings”/“Harry Potter”/“Star Wars” question each week, and I’m not ashamed to say that Monica and I have never gotten it right.)
What I’m trying to say is that when Monica and I go to Holmes & Watson to play bar trivia, we’re hoping for a moral victory.
We don’t expect to win. We just want to finish well. And last week, it looked like we wouldn’t even manage that. We were in last place for most of the night, stumped by questions about birds, numbers, the running of the bulls and Lady Godiva. Each round has six questions; we never got more than three right. But we triumphed in the final round, when we answered every question correctly, and when we turned in our ballot, the emcee looked at it, laughed, and said, “Saving the best for last, huh?”
We moved into second-to-last place, and there was no doubt that we’d scored an important moral victory. We hadn’t won, but we felt like winners.
The feeling hearkened back to an earlier era, when I wasn’t so consumed by the idea that winning it all was the only thing that mattered.
My best sports experience of all time was as a member of the middle school girls basketball team when I was in eighth grade. There were only six of us, and we started off the season rather poorly. (I ended up averaging 10 points a game; it goes without saying that when I am your leading scorer, your team cannot possibly be any good.) We were blown out by teams and had no idea what we were doing.
But we made steady improvement, and when we managed to beat a team that had crushed us earlier in the season in the first round of the playoffs, we were ecstatic. We lost in the next round, but I think it was the sweetest moral victory I’ve ever had.
As I embark on another nerve-wracking playoff run, I’m going to try to maintain some perspective.
I’m going to remember the moral victories, and put all that “anything less than a Super Bowl” talk out of my mind.
Because it’s been a fun season, and a surprising one, and although I seldom look to professional sports for moral victories, well, you just never know.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.